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Coke’s Latest Green Offering Lacks Fizz

RP Siegel | Wednesday December 1st, 2010 | 0 Comments

Coca-Cola’s Global Head of Water Stewardship, Greg Koch recently came out on the Guardian’s Professional Network to talk about the company’s sustainability journey. Speaking in a relaxed, familiar tone one might more likely use with a colleague over lunch or a neighbor at a picnic than a customer, he said, breathlessly:

“…we conducted a qualitative and then quantitative risk assessment of our global business which led to the role I now have and informed the development of our global water stewardship strategy including plant-level performance, watershed protection, community engagement, and a drive to increase global awareness of the need for action and collaboration on water resource sustainability.”

He reiterated the company’s pledge to become water neutral.

I think this idea of Coca-Cola, with its phenomenal reach across every conceivable kind of boundary, to educate the public on the many issues surrounding water, is a great one. However, I wasn’t able to find any evidence of the new global awareness campaign that his post alluded to, other than the post itself.

Searching the web for the company’s name in conjunction with sustainability, or water awareness, mostly brought me back to the company’s website, which, to be fair, has a lot of good information on it.  But given their enormous brand presence (number one in the world) and colossal advertising budget, they could do much more than that. Perhaps the campaign has just not been launched yet. Surely they don’t think that putting information on their website constitutes a public awareness campaign.

Meanwhile, the company has made the news a number of times recently for their sustainability efforts. There was the announcement last year that they were coming out with a partially plant-based bottle, an important first step towards their stated vision of a bottle made from 100% renewable materials.

Then there was the story about the work they did in China (where their sales increased by 20% last year) in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund in an effort to save the Yangtze River, which provides fresh water for 40% of China’s population. Coca Cola worked on watershed management projects, helped farmers to divert runoff, improved the water efficiency of bottling plants, and showed sugar producers ways to reduce their water consumption.

Last month, their CEO, Muhtar Kent won Corporate Responsibility (CR) Magazine’s “Responsible CEO of the Year” in the Large Market category. According the the announcement, “Since 2008, the CR Magazine Responsible CEO of the Year Awards have set the standard for leaders who are both setting tone at the top and taking personal reputational risks to better serve stakeholders.”

Internationally, a marketing campaign conducted in partnership with FIFA, the organization responsible for the World Cup, included support for an awareness campaign around a program called Replenish Africa Initiative, or RAIN.

The company also received praise for its focused sustainability efforts in SmartPlanet, which describes Coke as a role model for focusing on an area where the company can really make a difference: in Coke’s case, on water.

So I’m left wondering, with all this good news already in the press, why Mr. Koch felt the need to come out with this post that really doesn’t provide any new information.

Perhaps it represents a new soft marketing approach.

Or then again, maybe it has something to do with the fact that in a recent sustainability face-off performed by Fast Company, Coke was edged out by arch rival Pepsi. Everyone knows that the competition between these two is far more intense than even the Yankees vs. Red Sox. Of course, this is the kind of competition in which everyone wins, the kind we’d like to see far more of.

Coke has done a good job of learning to see themselves as part of the larger system in which they operate and they deserve to be recognized for that. This quote was one I found in their Replenish report.

“Water is the main ingredient in all of The Coca-Cola Company‘s products, and essential to our operations and the well-being of the communities and environments where we operate. Our commitment to protecting and managing water resources is driven by the very real and growing vulnerability of the fresh water that sustains us.”

This puts them far ahead of many other companies out there today whose behavior reminds me more of the old cartoon character sitting on a branch while he saws it off right where it joins the tree.

RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.

Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though can we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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